Monday, July 2, 2012

One Stroky’s Journey: Retail challenged

A gracious and beautiful white-haired lady at WalMart turned a frustrating shopping excursion into a successful outing Sunday afternoon. My shopping list was threefold:

1) pants and tops that are comfortable and appropriate for hot weather camping

2) lightweight knee-high socks to protect my skin under a plastic brace that helps me walk when I don’t have my electronic Bioness system on.

3) Personal care items I need for our summer travel and camping

First stop was a department store in a mall in Gautier, a neighboring town about a 15-minute drive from our home. I felt overwhelmed and exhausted just from walking through the entrance and facing the sea of clothes on display. Because I am still doing everything pretty much one-handed, I was especially interested in pants with an elastic waist.

All I saw in the first few minutes were pants in zip and button styles. We browsed through selections of summer sportswear tops. After a few pointed looks at each other, Hubby and I agreed that the few garments we had considered as possibilities didn’t spark enough interest in either of us to bother with my trying them on.

“I’m ready to go,” I stated.

Actually I was near tears. Just because a female is over 60 and has had a stroke, doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to look decent. I had definitely spiraled down into bitter resentment of retailers who did not have exactly what I needed. How dare they, even if I didn’t really know exactly what I needed or wanted?

“No excuses allowed,” I bellowed internally.

I lectured myself to shake it off. There was still a list of personal care items I needed for our camping trip. I was confident I could find most, if not all, at our next stop. That confidence lifted my spirits a little as we pulled into the Wally World parking lot. I even opted to use one of the store’s motorized scooters and let Hubby enjoy some freedom from babysitting me for bit.

“Wow,” I thought. “I must really be feeling better if I’m willing to give the scooter a try.”

My scooter-driving record hadn’t been notable in the past, causing myself acute embarrassment and onlookers spasms of sympathy. At a WalMart in another coast community early in my recovery, no family restroom was available for Walter to accompany and ensure I didn’t fall. In those early days I was at major risk for falls. A female employee assured me I would have no trouble taking the scooter into the handicapped stall. I scooted in.

What I didn’t realize was that I had an antique, poorly operating scooter that called for a minimum of two operable hands and a brain with undamaged brain cells. I successfully took care of business, managed to get back on the scooter, went backward and stalled. I opened the door, tried going forward and stalled. Repeated attempts produced the same result. I was stuck!

The employee I had encountered earlier tried to help me maneuver through the door of the handicapped stall. Another customer, a petite and elegant Asian lady stepped up to help as well, all to no avail. Finally the tiny Asian lady grabbed the front, bottom edge of the scooter and jerked it out the door. I was flustered and embarrassed as well as thankful and amazed at her strength.

And I still faced the challenge of getting through the restroom door! That was another adventure in getting stuck. The stroke-induced inability to determine where one’s body is in relationship to other objects sharing one’s environment evidently extends to one’s scooter, too! I have avoided those conveyances since then.

But now here I was, almost a year later, cautiously bumping the little lever back and forth to back up then go forward, hoping I wouldn’t remove any of the other shoppers’ appendages.

Leaving behind the nearby shoppers with their limbs intact, I buzzed along to the health and beauty section, trying to concentrate on driving but somewhat distracted, ruminating on the optimistic use of the word “beauty.” As I searched the shelves I did become quite adept at getting close enough to reach items on shelves.

Okay, maybe “adept” is not the appropriate word. How about “determined”? I did sometimes have to go to the end of an aisle, tentatively ease around the end, go down the adjacent aisle and come back to the targeted aisle for a second try, or a third.

If such ineptitude seems implausible, I assure you that I am extremely creative about ways to mess up anything that requires coordinated movement. Every time I would seem to have mastered all that back-forward and left-right steering business, a short circuit somewhere, like in my brain, would propel me into a shelf or display. Although there were some near misses, at least I didn’t hit anybody or their shopping carts. But that may have been because everybody around me was eyeing me fearfully then fleeing in the other direction.

Finally I had everything on my Wal-Mart list except the knee-high socks. I breezed up to the lady stationed at the dressing rooms. She was busy answering the store phone and paging sales associates. That gave me a chance to admire her snow-white hair and the cheerfulness and courtesy in her voice and manner. She gave me directions to women’s socks and off I scooted.

Ugh! Close aisles and packages of socks jammed on those hard-to-deal-with little metal rods. I found a three-pack of trouser socks that had potential. They didn’t look long enough to fit under the entire length of my brace, though. I headed to the men’s section.

Aha! Dr. Scholl came through. I snagged a two-pair pack of over-the-calf socks for diabetics. I am not diabetic but the description of cushiony comfort, air circulation and toe-pampering seams sounded like just what I needed, romantic even. 

I pushed the scooter’s little lever in order to back up. I turned the steering wheel sharply at the same time. Uh oh! Who knew that such a simple combination would produce centrifugal force that could shatter the sound barrier? Before I could stop I had whacked off a week’s worth of socks—for at least half a dozen men. And the little metal rods they were displayed on had clattered to the floor, too.

No way was I able to clean up the mess I had made. I made my way back to the lady at the dressing rooms to confess my scooter-piloting shortcomings. She assured me she would take care of the downed socks. Now, since we were bonded via retail mayhem, I showed her the diabetic’s socks I had found.

Evidently I had missed the smaller versions in the women’s section, and she offered to go get me a pair. I hope that she recognized that my gratitude was sincere. Exhaustion was complete, but I counted our shopping trip a success and my spirits lifted, all thanks to a WalMart angel.


  1. First of all, let me just say that I admire your spunk, your determination, and your fortitude. Most of us would just sit at home and sulk and not even venture out on such a shopping trip if it meant trying to navigate one of those scooters. I think your shopping trip was a success indeed. I applaud you. I also am grateful for those who assist.

    On a side note, you have pointed out that just because a retailer has the standard facilities to fall within the guidelines to meet the ADA standards, it doesn't necessarily mean that they have really made the facilities and the shopping areas truly accessible. I don't think most of us realize how frustrating it must be to have any kind of disability. We take our ability to go where we want to go on our own power way to much for granted. Thanks for enlightening us on just what it takes to get back to everyday life after suffering a stroke.

    You are my hero. I say that with all sincerity and respect. I think of you often. Have a wonderful camping trip.

  2. After reading what "Retired English Teacher" said, I know I can't say things any better than she did--and I agree with every one of her words!

    Kudos to you for your spirit and determination--and to the Wal-mart associate for going above and beyond to help!

    Have a great time in the Smokies :) I'll be thinking of you...

  3. Typing this post one handed must have been an ordeal and, yet, no typos! Yay! What you endured at Walmart is unbelievable. I am so glad you had a scooter and the assistance of that wonderful sales associate. Things are looking up for you. Yes, they are!

  4. i have said it before and say it again, you are A-mazing! keep on scootin!!!!